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Christoph Burkhardt of OneLife: “Deliver real-time solutions”

For sure, the homes of the future will be built around ideas of healthier living and well-being. That has been a trend that started before the pandemic but it got elevated to an entirely different level. With the rise in awareness of users comes the drop in price of new sensors which ultimately leads to […]

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For sure, the homes of the future will be built around ideas of healthier living and well-being. That has been a trend that started before the pandemic but it got elevated to an entirely different level. With the rise in awareness of users comes the drop in price of new sensors which ultimately leads to more consumers knowing more about how healthy the homes actually are they live in. And with more knowledge, there will be more demand for healthier solutions. On the other hand, there is a massive trend towards more transparency around environmental issues related to homes and homebuilding. Consumers care, and whenever consumers care they shift their expectations and demand more and better solutions. Ultimately, these two trends go really well together: to make your home healthier you also need to protect the environment in which it exists.


As a part of our series about “Homes Of The Future”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Christoph Burkhardt, the CEO of OneLife, a health tech startup from Germany that is on a mission to save lives and protect the planet by providing clinically clean air with its OneLife X Air Purifier. Christoph grew up in Germany but left to study in London and start his first business in San Francisco where he has been based ever since. A cognitive psychologist by training, the tech enthusiast has published several books on the effects of emerging technologies on our lives. Christoph believes in the transformative power of innovation to make us all healthier, happier, and ultimately save the planet we call home.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I have always been a pretty unconditional optimist about us humans and the things we invent. I’ve always believed in technologies and tools as elements of progress. That they would ultimately make life better for all of us. Not everybody agrees with this view, especially not in Germany where I grew up, where pragmatism is more valued than theoretical thinking. It is often hard for people to see the benefits of new technologies while they are still being developed or at the idea stage. My most recent book deals with the impact that Artificial Intelligence has on our lives and I totally see why people resist this and other technologies, but I’m also convinced that it will ultimately save lives. And this is also why almost two years ago I joined a visionary team of German engineers on a mission to save lives by cleaning indoor air of pollutants with a revolutionary technology they had been working on for years. Their mission was to use technology to improve the health of humans while also protecting the planet with sustainable solutions. This purpose mirrored so closely with my work that I could not resist joining them. And I am happy I did because it’s been truly the most inspiring time of my life.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I have always enjoyed the company of people who easily become the center of attention. I think in part that was because that took attention from me. As an introvert, I loved to watch, to learn, to understand and to observe what was going on, but I did not need to be the center of attention. I think there is a general misconception that introverts are shy and do not play well in teams. Most of the successful people I was fortunate enough to meet in San Francisco over the years reinforced the bias that success was somehow correlated with being ‘out there’. It was at a business networking event when I met the CEO of a company I had always admired and got a chance to ask him a few questions. At some point he said to me “people confuse loud and funny with confident and strong, real strength is about being able to stand the silence” He called these introverts “quiet leaders” and I started seeing them everywhere from that moment on. People who would listen carefully and create incredible products and services from what they learned. Sometimes we adopt a common bias, accept it as normal and internalize it until it gets in our way. Our biggest mistake is to try to be normal, to fit in and to accept the world as it is. I made this mistake, and am a happy and successful quiet leader today.

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?

I was always fascinated by human thinking which is why I started my career as a cognitive psychologist. I loved researching human beings with all their beautiful flaws and biases. It is still miraculous to me how we got to where we are given how limited our understanding of the world really is. The tipping point in my career came when I picked up every book on entrepreneurship and business leadership I could find. I did not know how to run a business or lead a team. I wanted to learn to lead and to sell products and services. After a while I noticed several patterns. One, all the books from a certain period pretty much recommended the same things. And two, they all had a very strange idea of why humans do what they do. Long story short, my tipping point was the moment I realized that I was working with and selling to the exact human beings I had been researching for years as a cognitive scientist rather than the ones I could read about in business books. I’m not an engineer but I lead an engineering team. We create solutions together that none of us could on their own. My career is living evidence that it pays off to not be normal. Be unique, use your individual understanding of the world to add value. We can all contribute because we think differently not because we are normal.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

This might be a little strange to some but “The Power of Now” had quite an impact on me. When you strip it of all the spiritual lingo and understand its core premise, it is a very powerful message. As entrepreneurs, we spend most of our time in the future. We think of all the potential scenarios, responses, eventualities, and try to come up with some sort of plan to deal with the uncertainties of this future. In my daily life, the idea that we have to come back to being in the now was very revealing. To be an effective leader I had to learn to be fully present without making plans. Being where you are became a powerful tool for me and I’m very glad I stumbled upon this idea early in my career, even if it took about five years and several rounds of reading the book for me to actually understand its meaning.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Albert Einstein –

This quote is a constant reminder that we are all part of evolution, and that every generation of innovators and problem solvers inadvertently creates the challenges that the next generation has to face. The solutions from the past become the problems of the future. It has always been like that. But the reason this is so relevant to me is that looking at a great solution today can be misleading because we can’t fully comprehend the problems even our best solutions will create. We need to do our best but then accept that everything is temporary, that we will not know everything we want to and we will never be 100 percent certain about anything. And that is just fine.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Homebuilding in the US has grown tremendously. We’d love to hear about some of the new trends and techniques that are being used to build the homes of the future.

For sure, the homes of the future will be built around ideas of healthier living and well-being. That has been a trend that started before the pandemic but it got elevated to an entirely different level. With the rise in awareness of users comes the drop in price of new sensors which ultimately leads to more consumers knowing more about how healthy the homes actually are they live in. And with more knowledge, there will be more demand for healthier solutions. On the other hand, there is a massive trend towards more transparency around environmental issues related to homes and homebuilding. Consumers care, and whenever consumers care they shift their expectations and demand more and better solutions. Ultimately, these two trends go really well together: to make your home healthier you also need to protect the environment in which it exists.

Can you share with us a few of the methods that are being used to make homes more sustainable and more water and energy efficient?

We will without a doubt have more and more devices in our homes. But these devices have to be more energy-efficient than they are today. The energy profile of every single home device has to improve drastically to meet the demand of energy in the world. Energy-efficiency moved all the way up at OneLife’s strategic priorities. Our products additionally follow another trend: the use of regrowing and recycled materials. We see this trend also being applied to all aspects of living in homes. From ocean plastics to bamboo to the use of recycled plastic from PET bottles, all these raw materials can replace more environmentally damaging materials. Especially in the field of consumer technology products there is no reason to have ugly and loud products in beautifully designed homes just because nobody made an effort to improve the product design with sustainable, organic components. We believe that sustainable materials and great design go very well together and I think our OneLife X Air Purifier is proof of it.

There is a lot of talk about Smart Homes. Can you tell our readers a bit about what that is, what that looks like, and how that might help people?

We are still just at the beginning of a true paradigm shift in how smart our environment really can become. We have not seen anything yet. But what will inevitably happen is a massive shift towards healthier and efficient homes. While we have seen most developments in the smart home industry being driven by convenience and safety, we are now moving towards using those same emerging technologies to make our homes healthier and protect the lives of those living in smart homes. We see data as a key driver of health and sustainability. Users demand health solutions that protect them but also the planet. One major field of innovation in the smart home space is clean air, ventilation, and filtration. While this basic function has been solved by the hardware built into the home, homes now have the ability to actually create real-time guidance and solutions through smart home devices. For instance, monitors that can detect the quality of the air outside your home so you know when best to open or not open a window. Sensors that detect the smallest of particles and chemicals released from putting a piece of furniture together so the home knows when to dial up filtration. My company’s newly launched air purifier, OneLifeX , provides a completely new type of smart home product to enter the market. Our technology does not require ventilators to run at high speed keeping the room absolutely silent, while saving lots of energy.

Aside from Smart Homes, can you talk about other interesting tech innovations that are being incorporated into homes today?

What if the mattress of your bed, the pollution sensors in the air purifier next to your bed, and the lights and window shades would all collaborate to let you wake you up fully recovered and rested? That is the greatest potential of a smart home system. It can help you not only to keep you safe and inform you about what is going on around you, it can help you develop healthier habits yourself and overcome some of the biggest drivers of stress. To me, humans are very much part of smart homes. The more we interact and exchange information with the system surrounding us, the more the system will be able to deliver real-time solutions.

Can you talk about innovations that are being made to make homes more pet friendly?

We all know pets provide incredible support and happiness to a home and family. And during the pandemic, we’ve seen an unprecedented pet adoption boom with more people becoming pet parents and more people spending more time indoors with their pets. This can impact the air you breathe. The issue around pets is not only the dander that might impact the pet parent but also what other outside finer, much smaller particles that can be carried indoors by the pet and are harmful to our bodies. So, the advancement in access to high-performance air purifiers is absolutely one of the best innovations to ensure pet-friendly homes for the humans who live in them.

How about actual construction materials? Are there new trends in certain materials to address changes in the climate, fires, floods, and hurricanes?

In 2021 and beyond, building homes that protect their inhabitants but at the same time endanger wildlife and the environment will no longer be enough. Fast regrowing materials like bamboo and the use of recycled materials like ocean plastic will become more important while the energy profile not only of buildings but all the tolls and systems in and around homes will come under scrutiny. For us as a provider of clinically clean air, this shift means to get rid of waste and any replacement of filters and look towards more sustainable solutions and materials. For example, OneLifeX uses regrowing bamboo casing that provides a sustainable design with healthy materials to minimize the impact the product has on the environment.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

My team at OneLife and I are driven by the idea of providing a next-generation product that saves lives while at the same time protects the planet. We believe that these two are completely interlinked and can not be addressed as separate problems to solve. If you make people healthier but you are doing so by producing a lot of waste and using up incredible amounts of energy, you are not doing enough in 2021. At the same time, simply being environmental activists would not be enough for our team of engineers, scientists, and dreamers. We want to provide high-performance products that deliver absolutely clean air for people with a real need. We want others to join our movement of a healthier life with a healthier planet. There is a lot we can achieve if we come together and act as a leading force for the coming decade.

How can our readers follow you online?

For OneLife go to www.linktr.ee/onelife.eco

To follow Chris go to www.christophb.com

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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